Benefits of mushroom cultivation enthuse women and farmers in Ladakh
High in nutrition mushrooms are grown easily and require little land or investment. Mushrooms also provide Ladakh a much-needed winter crop
Curiously, Ladakh has a fairly large vegetarian population. In adverse and harsh climatic conditions, vegetarians require alternative supply of nutrition and protein which can enhance their immunity. It has now been established that mushroom can be a great food resource as it ticks all the boxes and contain the required nutritional elements.
A high percentage, in fact as high as 64% of Ladakhi women suffer from anaemia. The visible symptoms are cracked nails, chipped enamel, reduced flow during menstrual period and fatigue. Following field studies and consultations with experts and doctors, we discussed the issue with Rinpoche Ji (Head of the Buddhist monks) and emphasised the need to include mushroom in the diet and also the urgency for mushroom to be grown in Ladakh.
Mushroom cultivation has the potential of supplementing the income of farmers and help promote sustainable agriculture. Mushrooms convert wastes into potential valuable resources. Dried and organic shitake mushrooms are popular and nutritious. Mushrooms can be dried using solar dryers and stored for 4-6 months.
Dried mushroom enhances the shelf life of the crop and it has been found that drying does not affect the nutritional content of mushrooms. Solar-dried mushrooms retain their natural brown colour and do not lose either the moisture or the nutrition. Solar-dried mushrooms have been successfully used to make soup.
The field experiments and the improvised low-cost and portable solar dryer we have developed can be used easily by women in the hilly regions and evade accidents which are common in the hilly terrain. What is more, organically grown mushroom dried with solar-dryers have the potential of fetching farmers 30% higher prices.
In the absence of adequate cold storage facilities in Ladakh, the solar dryer has been used successfully as a portable storeroom. Yet another advantage of growing mushrooms is that they can be grown even in the winter months. With cultivation coming to a standstill in Ladakh in winter, cultivating mushroom can provide cultivators a highly valuable winter crop.
Mushroom cultivation contributes significantly in waste bioconversion by transforming post-harvest agricultural waste into nutritious and marketable products. It is an important horticultural cash crop which brings quick revenue for the farmers especially in the cold regions of Ladakh where pasture lands are present. Mushrooms cultivated commercially till now include White Button mushrooms (Agaricus bisporus), Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus spp.), Paddy straw mushrooms, Shitake and Milky mushrooms.
Mushroom cultivation can also help convert recyclable agro-products to protein-rich diet supplement at low costs, with little or hardly any dependence on land.
Tons of agricultural waste are burnt across the country leading to air pollution. Agricultural residues and straws can be used as a substrate to produce mushroom. This is a profitable business and an eco-friendly solution to deal with growing pollution.
Mushrooms are known to boost immunity and reduce blood sugar in diabetics but supplement iron and hemoglobin in anaemic patients as it is a rich source of folic acid and linoleic acid. Mineral salt content in mushrooms is also higher than in meat or fish and twice that of vegetables; protein content is twice as much as in potatoes and asparagus, four times higher than in tomatoes and carrots, and six times higher than in oranges.
Mushrooms grow rapidly and yield higher returns in a relatively short period of time. Oyster mushrooms are the easiest to grow and take the shortest time. It requires relatively low investment and with India having the highest number of malnourished people, the importance of cultivating mushroom cannot be over-emphasised.
Most women in the country are suffering from anaemia and iron deficiency which can be improved with the intake of marketable mushroom products. The frequency of anaemia in women in the age group 15-59 has increased all over India. Women from poor socioeconomic status are now more vulnerable to mineral deficiency.
Conclusion: The training and demonstration carried out in Ladakh villages like Takmachik , Domkhar and Urbis villages received enthusiastic response from cultivators and especially from women. The mushroom bags prepared during the practical session of the training were kept at respective villages to let them observe them. And the remaining mushroom spawns were given to farmers.
Mushroom cultivation can be a positive boon. farmers quickly grasped the economic benefits of growing mushroom. Their only concern was how to get the mushroom spawn. They are now aware that in Leh they can buy mushroom spawn from KVK Stakna and Agriculture Dept. farm at Guphuks.
(Written by Aarti Rajput, Neha Upadhyay, Sonam Angmo, Eshey Tundup and Nawang Gyalchan)
Published: 26 Nov 2021, 3:03 PM